For a catholic order known as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate January 25 is also the day which marks a different fall. The grace of God which overpowered the zealous persecutor of Christians fell on a few priests in the Southern France. It soaked them so much that it reached their hearts, minds and wills. Like Saul they couldn’t continue the way they lived before. They felt compelled to embrace the program Jesus Christ reveled at the beginning of his public ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor.” The Spirit who so powerfully descended, fell on Jesus when John the Baptist immersed the Lord in the Jordan River, descended, fell on those priests from France, which was still recovering from the turmoil of the French Revolution. Eugene and his first companions fell to living a community life. For us Oblates January 25 is truly a celebration of a fall, when our first fathers fell to living a community life. They did so not because they were looking for a cozy house and a friendly network of single-minded people. They fell to living a community life because they wanted to evangelize. They wanted to create a living cell of the Church in the midst of their local Church so that their passion for evangelizing could spread onto others. They realized that evangelizing is not about brilliant preachers and inspiring talks but it is all about a united community which undertakes upon itself the mission of Jesus.
Some years later Eugene wrote to the Oblate novices and seminarians about that January 25, 1816. He recalled the beginnings in order so that they could see themselves part of that story:
Tomorrow I celebrate the anniversary of the day, sixteen years ago, I left my mother’s house to go and set up house at the Mission. Father Tempier had taken possession of it some days before. Our lodging had none of the splendour of the mansion at Billens, and whatever deprivations you may be subject to, ours were greater still. My camp-bed was placed in the small passageway which leads to the library: it was then a large room used as a bedroom for Father Tempier and for one other whose name we no longer mention amongst us. It was also our community room. One lamp was all our lighting and, when it was time for bed, it was placed in the doorway to give light to all three of us.
The table that adorned our refectory was one plank laid alongside another, on top of two old barrels. We have never enjoyed the blessing of such poverty since the time we took the vow. Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly. I highlight this wholly voluntary deprivation deliberately (it would have been easy to put a stop to it and to have everything that was needed brought from my mother’s house) so as to draw the lesson that God in his goodness was directing us even then, and really without us having yet given it a thought, towards the evangelical counsels which we were to profess later on. It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value.
I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!
The Providence incorporated the beginning of the Oblate Congregation into the day dedicated to the fall of Saul, the future Paul, the great missionary of the nations. St Eugene and his first companions shared the same passion for proclaiming the God News of the Son of God who died for salvation of people, who was raised to life for salvation of people, and who has been glorified at the right hand of the Father for salvation of people.